Changing the stories we tell ourselves ✨
Did a friend forward this to you?
I went to a 6 a.m. yoga class earlier this week, even though I don’t like to work out in the morning. The story I tell myself is that I get up early not to exercise, but to drink coffee at my desk and diligently work on my novel. (Okay, fine, sometimes I just catch up on internet drama, but that’s PART of the PROCESS.)
This week I decided to tell myself a different story. I am someone who unlocks her bike while it’s still dark outside, slings her mat over her shoulder, and cycles in the pre-dawn quiet to yoga. The next day I went right back to coffee and writing and drama, but for one single morning I was different, and it felt good to change things up.
It’s a feeling I’m trying to carry with me as I start seriously thinking about my next book. The story I’ve always told myself is that I’m a seat-of-her-pants writer, the type to start a project with nothing but an image or an idea and see where it takes me. “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,” right?
Well. It may not shock you to learn that this process is not the most efficient! Because I have no idea where the story is going, I tend to unearth the True Plot about 150 pages in, which means the first half of the book gets sliced or diced or cut entirely. Scores of scenes I painstakingly edited are dragged to the trash can, whole characters disappear from the draft, darlings are killed left and right. It’s all in service of the story, but it would have been nice to save myself some work.
This time, even though I have a character, an image, an idea, I’m not allowing myself to cross the threshold of page one. Instead, I’m writing an outline. Developing backstories and conflicts. Sketching out potential scenes and making sure I have all the pieces of the puzzle, that there’s not a giant hole in the middle before I start putting it together.
Something I still haven't figured out is where this particular story starts, which is not uncommon. One of the most important questions in plotting, in writing, in life, is “Why now?” What is the inciting incident that changes everything? What clock is ticking, what precipice has been reached? Why does the story begin here, in this of all moments?
When I taught creative writing during my MFA, the most frequent feedback I gave my students was to cut the opening paragraph, the first page, chapter one. In writing and in life, we need a certain amount of distance to recognize the true beginning, to see where it all started. To look back and think, “That sentence, that moment, that conversation, that decision to go to yoga at 6 a.m.—that’s when everything changed, when the life I’m living now began.” 💛
✨ Snack of the Week ✨
Technically this is a whole meal and not a snack. In fact, according to the nutritional label, it is TWO meals which, I'm sorry, but no. This Butternut Mac & Cheese is, however, a delicious seasonal item from Trader Joe's. Creamy, tangy, earthy, with the tiniest kick of cayenne, it will keep you warm on a cool autumn night. (Or, if you're in North Carolina, on a sweltering September Saturday. Same difference.) I'm glad we're reunited, and I highly recommend introducing yourself.
I Was Caroline Calloway, The Cut. Things I love: social media, influencer culture, unrepentant scammers, commodification of the self, doomed relationships, and literary ambition. Y'all, I'm happy to report that this tell-all essay by Natalie Beach, the ghostwriter and ex-BFF of influencer Caroline Calloway, has it all. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this excellent explainer first. Then finish things off with an interview with Natalie Beach. Okay, now I'm really done! 🌸
The New Spiritual Consumerism, New York Times. "It’s a little bit curious that as our political discourse is concerned with economic inequality—and the soaring costs of health care, education and homes—the cultural conversation is fixated on the healing powers of luxury items. What does it mean, that materialism is now so meaningful?" 💇🏻♀️
The 10 Best Cheeses to Buy at Trader Joe's, Food & Wine. BRB, making the ultimate snack plate. 🧀
A Tiny Challenge
What is the oldest story you telling yourself? Is it still true? This week, throw in a little plot twist and see what happens.
See you next Sunday! 💌
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